Save. Spend. Splurge.

My parents won the lottery and then wasted most of it on themselves

Some of you are going to find this post harsh to read, but it’s really what has happened. I’m trying to tell the story as objectively as I can.

My parents won a small lottery (about half a million) when they were 30 years old.

The first things they did?

  1. Purchased brand new, expensive, matching his-and-hers luxury watches – $20K
  2. Took a trip for 2 weeks with us kids overseas flying first-class – $20K
  3. Bought a house in cash – $200K
  4. Bought a luxury vehicle – $100K
  5. Stopped working full-time for about 15 years; then my ONE parent got a real job in the past decade and now makes bank

I hope you see where this is going.

About 30 years later, and they have $1M in their home. A small set of savings aside, maybe under $50K if that. But that’s about it.

Total financial progress? Near to Zero.

Wasted investing opportunity of half a million 30 years ago? Immense.

They’d be millionaires 3X over had they invested even just half of the lottery winnings, and stopped contributing.

We looked rich…. but very poor in terms of lifestyle (food was the cheap canned and processed stuff, but we sure had THE BEST cable TV plan because my dad loved watching his shows.)

My parents bought things to look rich, not to actually be rich

They didn’t buy assets, they had no financial literacy, and spent it in an attempt to buy being rich when.. in fact, not spending it at all would have made them rich.

My parents didn’t pay for much (I think you guys call that “frugal or cheap living” these days), and their working part-time to helped cover those daily bills, but left $0 to save, if anything.

They didn’t bother to try and learn how to manage their money, teach themselves, pick up a basic book and read it.. NOTHING. I guess that’s the story of most people today, and perhaps why I am so passionate about making sure people are at presented the tools to succeed, and then if they don’t pick them up, use them and learn … that’s on them, not on me.

Even for school trips, I didn’t go on them with all the other kids because my parents didn’t want to “waste money”, although buying lottery tickets was a necessary line item in their budget.

They still think that they’re going to win the lottery … a second time.

I was that kid who stayed back, alone in the corner of some classroom while another teacher watched me for the week. It was really strange to other kids that I wouldn’t go on school trips but my dad drove a luxury car and we lived in a massive home.

It made me even more of a weirdo, and they thought that I had some sort of mental problem or disorder, like not being able to be around people on a trip or something strange.

Today, at least they have a home they can liquidate for $1M

It isn’t that bad now, because it was worse about a year ago if you can believe this.

A year ago, they only had their house and were about $75,000 in debt from lackadaisical saving, paying the minimums on their line of credit and mortgage, and gambling the rest.

(Did I also mention that they now make over 6-figures, combined?)

My parents had the brilliant idea (actually more my father, as my mother is an Ostrich), that they would spend every penny of their savings and money, and leave not even a penny to us kids upon their death.

So he started early by taking out a line of credit, buying a new car with it, “investing” in lottery tickets, and buying stocks on the stock market when he can’t even tell you what a balance sheet is, let alone how to read it.

This makes no difference to me (in theory) because I didn’t even want their money to begin with, but it’s just going into debt for something really RIDICULOUS.

Seriously, LOTTERY TICKETS as an investment!?

It isn’t enough that they already beat the super low odds and won the jackpot 25 years ago, but it is sheer insanity if they think they can win it again.

Today the only reason they are debt-free and have $4000 in savings is because I put them on a rather generous budget, and made my mother realize that the cash was just dripping out of their hands onto junk and crap they couldn’t even remember buying or eating.

It affected how I looked at money

It’s no wonder I grew up all screwed up about money. It was a secretive, mysterious non-issue at the house.

The only times we talked about money was for my father to tell us that we couldn’t afford seafood, or nice steaks because that fancy food is expensive, and my mother promising me over and over again that I had $10,000 earmarked for me when I was ready to go to college.

Surprise surprise, the promised money to each of us had gone down the drain and into the pockets of the lottery corporation by the time I was ready to go to college.

Frankly they shouldn’t have said anything at all.

So no, I don’t understand what it feels like to have parents who sacrificed for their children because from what I can see, my parents acted like children, and sacrificed our futures for their own selfish, present wants.

I am not saying every parent should give every penny and asset they have to their kids so they can live on beans and rice, but I can safely say that my parents went a bit far in this self-indulgence category.

I am also not saying that they should have sacrificed to pay for my education over their retirement either, but they didn’t even secure their own futures.

But then again, maybe this is the new normal, if modern parents these days are prioritizing designer furniture, eating out and wine over saving for their own retirement, let alone thinking for hteir kids.

Then I find out that we kids were the retirement plan all the long, even though as parents, they didn’t do jack squat in sacrificing in the slightest to deserve such filial generosity shown by other kids to their parents.

I would have much preferred not being told I had any money for my education – maybe I would have tried harder to save money from working, or to try and figure out what it would all cost for me. Who knows?

I am no longer resentful

I have modified this post since I wrote it years ago in 2013, but I am no longer resentful.

It is what it is. Holding onto that anger and stress, does me no good at all. It just makes me angry, and for what?

What’s done is done.

I am also only able to control my own actions, how influential I am on their lives, and how I react to others’ behaviours, which is the best I can do. I’m not superhuman.

The good news is that all of these mistakes just mean that I promised I wouldn’t end up like them, and I haven’t (except for the part about not liking to work full-time, that one is true for me as well.)

For one thing, I really dislike gambling. I hate casinos… I cannot even think about it.

I can buy a ticket perhaps ONCE a year (from those giveaway for cancer home lotteries, not the regular ones) because buying a ticket once a year is the best chance that you’ll have to ever win anything. But even so, every time I buy that one ticket, I get angry I wasted that money, so in recent years I haven’t bought any at all.

The only gambling I do, is office pools. I won two already, so those are great deals.

For another thing, I am never going to tell my son that he has money saved aside from me to cover everything. He’s going to take over his accounts and invest his own government “baby” money that we have been funnelling into his education fund. It’s all his money, not ours.

I will help him SO MUCH on the financial literacy front, and even now at 6 years old, he is forming a mindset that he is a “Great Saver”, and I will help him understand what Income minus Expenses means as he ages. We will do little budgets for Back to School, and I will let him learn with smaller amounts so he doesn’t end up like me.

We’re going to talk about budgeting and money management in my house until he is blue in the face and can recite exactly what we spend each month on food and why they can either choose to swim or take gymnastics lessons but not both.

I am also not counting on my parents (or the government) for any money either.

Actually, I’d be happy if my parents decided to sell place and used the money for their retirement, as long as they stop getting into debt and learn that they can’t have their cake and eat it too. They need to sell the house and rent a small apartment to get the money, or keep the house and deal with not having piles of money to throw around on expensive wants.

I’m really more interested in what they’re doing now to change for the future, and so far only one parent seems to be making the change and I couldn’t be happier and more proud of her.

The other? Still thinks he deserves more than what he gets, and can’t understand why I won’t give in to his selfish demands.


  • E

    I am amazed when I hear stories like that. My parents paid for everything for their children including the college education and condos. However my husband’s father is the one who didn’t want to pay for his education and told him to get a job after high school yet he retired at age 52. I am glad that you learned to manage your money well despite your parents money habits. When I met my husband, I thought he had a substantial savings considering his spending habits, but turns out he had no savings at all. Thankfully, he is a good listener and team player so it wasn’t too difficult to make him understand the benefits of saving at a your age.

    • save. spend. splurge.

      Sad but true. This is why when my kids are ready to go to college, I may (or may not) have the money to pay for it depending on how things work out but at the very least, they will not be on the hook for my retirement, and I am planning on making sure they really understand how to manage money. They’ll also be welcome back to stay with us if they need to save up to start their lives — another thing my father has not been generous about.

  • Tammy R

    Wow, I am very amazed that this happened – first, not being able to go on field trips when your parents have a $100k car? and now they ask YOU for $20K for a vacation? Oh boy, I don’t even know what to say. My jaw is on the floor and my eyes are bugging out.

    It is so good to see that you are going to work with your children about budgeting and openly discuss money. I think that would prevent so many young adults from going into credit card debt (like I did buying beers at college!).

  • Cassie

    Wow, this is pretty shocking. I can’t imagine receiving a lump sum like that all at once, but I CAN imagine that I’d be very careful with the way I spend it. While it is a lot of money to get all at once, it isn’t a ton over the span of a lifetime. If you invest and save wisely, you could certainly live comfortably for the rest of your life… but not if you go out and spend it all at once.

    I don’t blame you for feeling the way you feel, and I think it’s really important to have those boundaries you’ve set up with your parents. The fact that they chose cable TV over your field trips is, well, selfish. You certainly don’t owe them anything, and I think it’s sad your siblings think they do. Obviously, you’ve learned a very valuable (pun intended?) lesson from all of this!

  • PK

    Well, if children are either a reflection of their parents or the inverse, I’d say you’re the inverse (work habits beside). Was it strange not having your parents (or even a parent) working while you grew up?

    (Watch out for that filial piety, as we discussed!)

    • saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      I’m as opposite as my parents as I can get for personality but that is from conscious work. My parents are also opposites of each other which means I have one good parent to learn from.

      It was not something I thought about as a kid with only one parent working part-time.

      I thought it was normal and EVERY parent had a mother who stayed at home and a dad who didn’t do anything all day but work maybe 4 hours a night at best.

      It wasn’t until I got older that I found it odd and put all the pieces together.

      I will say that although I don’t want to necessarily work 24/7 it is less because I am lazy and parasitic (father) than my being not interested in getting millions of dollars but missing out on LIFE.

      I’d rather conciously have less money and be more relaxed or balanced than work to death for money I don’t even need.

      However when I am on a contract, I work pretty hard which is why I know my nature is to overachieve and I have a tendency to become a workaholic (scheduled posts until end of November 2013 on this blog as an example), and I need to pull myself back.

  • LAL

    LOL too funny. I told you recently about friends who are saving to buy a $150k boat, taken $30k from their parents to remodel their home, and had college paid for at private universities. HOWEVER they aren’t paying for their two kids colleges because they’d rather buy their boat. Um, wow. I am floored and speechless that a boat is more important than their kids, but what bothers me more is they expect everything from their parents but aren’t going to give anything to their kids!

    It’s really strange.

    • saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      Which is why it is fair that I don’t expect anything from my parents and my kids will work the same way I did — jobs during summer and school, student debt if they choose to take it on (better make a good decision!!) and making their financial decisions on their own.

  • Girl Meets Debt

    I’m glad your mom has seen the errors of her ways and I’m even more glad (is that a real word?) that you refuse to give in to your dad’s selfish demands!

  • SarahN

    When you give your kids money, will you adjust the eldest kids $10k in 2025 for inflation when the second kid gets it two years later?

  • anna

    That’s sad that your parents wasted their lottery winnings, then expect you to foot their retirement bill! I would be curious to know what your siblings think, as well, and also how they turned out (i.e., financially responsible or not).

    • saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      They range from being spendthrifts (making $400K a year and spending it all) to being cheapskates who are resentful and mooch off others without even really realizing they’re mooching. However overall we are all good with money (we save in varying amounts) and we all hate gambling.

  • Pauline

    Wow the part about investing in lottery tickets and not in your field trips is really sad. Interesting how we either follow our parents’ patterns or reject the model completely.

  • Vanessa

    Regardless on the number of times a person has won the lottery, the odds are still the same (5M tickets sold is a 5M-1 shot for me as it is for you and as it is for your parents) — Gambler’s Fallacy 😛 /EconNerdRant

  • Ani

    How does your siblings feel about your parents attitude towards money? Do they help out your parents? Just curious about family dynamics. As my parents were the savers to the hilt. They provided all needs, some wants but never encouraged the give me give me syndrome. Luckily i am saver and my sister is spender, though she will never go into debt to finance her shopping. I am trying to make her save atleast 25% of her earings to start with. After lots of speeches she has gone upto 10% and i consider that battle won.

    • saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      My siblings are far softer and more generous than I will ever be to my parents. They think I’m too hard on them and perhaps I am in some ways but I am equally as generous in my opinion. I buy them lots of things but only things that are useful for the house for instance.

      They have a lot of filial guilt to some extent. They feel bad, like they HAVE to give them money and pay for them because of our culture. I feel no such guilt, having observed and worked through my feelings and thoughts in an objective manner.

      I just make it clear when they want to give money, it is them, not me.

      My other siblings show off by buying a car (once) and sending them on trips, I do neither because they do not need a car not a trip, they need to SAVE.

  • Bianca

    Well I guess this just shows you how winning a lottery is a great idea for some people, yet it does nothing to grow their financial knowledge. If anything, I’d say it did not help them at all in the long run.

  • tomatoketchup

    I’m sure you’ve already done this, but if I were in your situation, I would be very clear with them that they would never get a single dollar of my financial support in the future. It seems scavengers like that will only learn through a prolonged period of suffering as a consequence of their poor decisions.

    • saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      Oh don’t worry, I’ve been instituting a program of a year and a half of tough love, mixed with money management principles.

      On the one hand, my mom knows she can expect nothing (although she has never asked for anything or wants anything, and I’d give HER everything, as she was an Ostrich not a willing and active participant).

      My father on the other hand, is starting to realize what the deal is with me. He gets ME but not my money. He’s not too thrilled with me right now.

  • Leslie Beslie

    I love that they kept playing the lottery after they won. Since money was just handed to them once, they almost expected it to happen again. Our mind can be a crazy thing sometimes.

  • jane savers @ solving the money puzzle

    Do your parents read your blog?

    • saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      No but they know exactly how I feel. I gave them a good speech when they asked for $20K for some luxury vacation. I told them I didn’t want their money but they had no right to mine either, considering X, Y, Z (all the points I listed out in this post).

      My mom immediately understood. My father? Still trying.

  • jane savers @ solving the money puzzle

    Wow. They wasted so much and learned nothing but this seems typical of lottery winners.

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